Sunday 27 May 2018

Parched wildlife in line of fire

ORANGES are less juicy. Some restaurants which gave them out free -- along with a small glass of port -- have ceased being so generous. It's all down to the weather, you hear.

Aside from the widely reported instances of flash floods and fatalities in mudslides in southern Spain, caused by the tropical storm Nadine at the start of the month, the Iberian Peninsula, generally, is parched.

Grape and olive harvests will be down by around 50 per cent, with knock-on effects on oil and wine prices. Small producers will be particularly hit, according to one man I know whose family farms in Alentejo, the vast, south-central province of Portugal. He says the bigger commercial producers who can more easily tap irrigation reserves, will fare better, obviously.

Alentejo is a countryside of sparsely populated plains dominated by vast cork and olive plantations and suited to low rainfall, sweltering heat and poor soil.

It is one of Europe's poorest regions but also home to hundreds of species of birds, from black storks to great bustards, all adapted to the mix of agriculture and wilderness.

The long-lasting drought has seriously affected grazing with animals being the principal sufferers. Natural or state parkland authorities have had to top up troughs of feed to keep them on the hoof.

In Andalusia in southern Spain a project to market hunting forays for substantial fees in one park has blown up a political storm. The money is to be used to pay for feed for animals in the park of Cazorla, Sigura and Las Villas in Jaen province.

But there is bitter disagreement that a fenced-off animal observation area, where mountain goats, red and fallow deer and mouflon (a wild sheep species) roam freely, should become a shooting gallery for hunting parties paying thousands of euro.

Andalusia's environment department auctioned four hunting expeditions inside Collado and Almendral for top bids of €2,000 each, to kill two deer and two mouflon under ranger supervision.

The €8,000 went into the park's food supply budget.

Each year 60 hunting groups are allowed into the park but never before had a zone exclusive to binocular and 'scope enthusiasts' been allowed to be shot over.

"These are difficult times and we need to find sources of income to meet our needs," said an official. To allow hunting of animals in semi-captivity in a fenced-in area, is "a blunder", said a spokesperson for a group called Ecologists-in-Action. The park could charge a fee to visit the area, it said.

"We don't understand how they allowed hunting in a place where the animals are defenceless and have no means of escape," added the spokesperson.

One business source said the hunting had damaged the image of what is Spain's leading natural park. He queried if it was legal.

There have been political repercussions. The Popular Party is to raise the matter in the regional assembly. One deputy said: "The government of Andalusia brings ruin to everything it touches."

At €500 a carcass it was not a cheap day's adventure for the men with guns. But one thing is obvious: not everyone in Spain is penniless in the current EU turmoil, especially hunters.

Sunday Independent

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